Re-Envisioning Defense:

An Agenda for US Policy Debate and Transition


Project on Defense Alternatives

December 2008


Executive Summary


The United States is entering a critical period of policy transition.  Beginning with the advent of a new administration in Washington, and continuing through the end of 2010, all of America's national security and defense planning guidance will be revised.  Certainly the need for change is manifest.  


Recent defense policy evinces a disturbing paradox: it has been delivering less and less security at ever increasing cost.  And, on a world scale, a process of global re-polarization and re-militarization underway.  If unchecked, this portends a return to conditions reminiscent of the Cold War, which would add impetus to weapon  proliferation, arms races, and conflicts.


Reviewing current US policy, we have identified 25 specific concerns that relate to the problems noted above.  These might form an agenda for policy discussion and change.   From these we have distilled a “short list” of three overarching topics or concerns that, taken together, capture the fundamental problems in current policy.  Alternatives addressing these three core concerns can provide guidance for understanding and addressing the rest.



Three Core Concerns


Core  concern 1.  Security policy vision: How do we understand and hope to attain security? 


This entails our assessment of the security environment and its dynamics as well as our security interests, goals, concerns, and strategy.   Presently, the “war on terrorism” provides the principal organizing theme for US security policy, which puts America on a permanent war footing.   Is this the optimal frame for addressing post-Cold War security challenges? 


An alternative approach might emphasize broad multilateral cooperation in redressing the sources of stress and instability in the international system.  Central questions for US policymakers include: What is the appropriate balance between cooperation and coercion in US strategy.   Will US efforts at cooperation be broad or narrow?  Will we seek to lead by virtue of the strength of our ideas and diplomacy – or by virtue of our military predominance?


Core concern 2.   The role of force and the armed forces in US foreign and security policy. 


Since the Cold War’s end, the role of the US military in the world, and the role of force in US policy, have grown more prominent.  The outcome of this increased activity has not been encouraging, however.  It has done more to add to instability than resolve it.   And it has proved fabulously expensive  in terms of both lives and treasure.  Any adequate alternative to recent defense policy must provide new guidance on the use of force and the role of the military.


Core concern 3.  The “fit” between America’s defense posture and the global security environment. 


America’s military posture is not well-adapted to today’s security challenges.  And this contributes to its problem of sustainability.  Adjusting the nation's defense posture to more closely fit the security environment would simultaneously render that posture more "sustainable".  And this might  turn the defense policy paradox "on its head" – yielding greater security at lower cost. 


Topics for Policy Debate and Change


The 25 specific concerns that we have identified can be divided into eight categories:


  Policy on strategic warfare

  Counter-proliferation, counter-terrorism, and homeland security

  Policy on major military operations, conventional and irregular

  Peacetime military engagement

  The US stance on international law and arms control

  Civil-military relations: The growing influence of the Pentagon

  Defense budget, acquisition, and management issues

  Country-specific controversies


Policy on Strategic Warfare


1. Nuclear weapons, missile defense, and the “new deterrence”

2. Prompt global strike: The advent of conventional strategic warfare

3. Seizing the “new high ground”: the weaponization of space


Counter-proliferation, counter-terrorism, and homeland security


4. Offensive counter-proliferation (OCP): Arms control by bombardment?

5. Counter-terrorism & homeland security: Search for a sensible strategy


Major regional military operations, conventional and irregular


6. Preparations for major wars reflect unnecessarily ambitious goals

7. “Shock and awe” strategy and attacks on civilian-military targets

8. Counter-insurgency, peace and stability operations, nation-building


Peacetime military engagement


9. Global military presence & base posture: cover the earth?

10. Military cooperation, assistance, and arms transfers programs


US stance on international law and arms control


11. Adherence to international law and legal institutions

12. The role of negotiated arms control in US security policy


Civil-military relations: The growing influence of the Pentagon


13. DOD’s domestic “perception management” efforts

14. DOD’s drive for expanded “authorities” and greater freedom of action


Defense budget and acquisition issues


15. DOD’s broken financial and inventory accounting system.

16. Pork-barrel spending: the Pentagon budget as “gravy train”

17. DOD’s broken weapon procurement system

18. Military transformation: To what end?  How much of what is enough?

19. Setting the defense budget – forever more than $600 billion?


Country-specific issues


20. Iraq withdrawal: soon or never?

21. Resolving the Iran and North Korea nuclear issues

22. Afghanistan war & Pakistan instability

23. Israel-Palestine and Lebanon conflict

24. Relations with China and Russia.

25. Increased military activity in sub-Saharan Africa and South America